Three years after Japan announced its first known case of the coronavirus, the situation is at one of its worst points. Daily death toll records are being broken this month. And the virus continues spreading nationwide as part of the eighth wave putting the medical system under a major strain.
More than 80 percent of hospital beds in Kanagawa Prefecture, next to Tokyo, are occupied. This hospital is accepting about 100 patients by ambulance every day now.
Some people are waiting at home for their condition to improve but then get badly sick.
The central government drastically changed its anti-virus measures last year. It no longer urges people to strictly limit their activities. The isolation period for people who test positive has been shortened. And border controls have been significantly eased.
The health ministry is now discussing whether to lower the status of the infection to the same category as seasonal flu.
That would allow more hospitals to accept patients, easing the burden on the medical system. But people would have to partly pay for tests and hospital stays.
About 60 percent of respondents of a recent NHK poll support lowering the status while 40 percent are against it.
Some opponents are worried about the current surge in the number of deaths, as well as a rapid spread of infections in China.
There is also concern new coronavirus variants may emerge. Government officials say they are taking those issues into account as they consider revising the status.
The government's chief coronavirus advisor says the highest priority should be to properly provide the necessary healthcare, while maintaining economic and social activities.
Omi Shigeru said, "The measures for balancing those two goals must gain people's agreement and understanding."
Officials across Japan confirmed more than 54,000 infections on Monday with 284 deaths.